Leveling Up Your 1:1s

How to run the kind of 1:1s your reports want to show up to

July 14, 2022
Press the button to generate random icebreaker questions.
There are 300 more icebreaker questions at the bottom of the article
How would you describe your job to a five year old?
What season would you be?
What is a weird food you have tried? Would you eat it again?
What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Would you go in the mother-ship with aliens if they landed on Earth tomorrow?
What is your favorite season?
Do prefer working from home or the office?
What is your earliest memory of this job?
What is the best thing you have bought so far this year?
What is the earliest book you remember?
If you had to move to another country, which one would you choose?
You are the best criminal mastermind in the world. What crime would you commit if you knew you would get away with it?
What is your favorite movie genre to watch?
What was the last thing you ate?
What person from history would you add to Mount Rushmore?
What is a weird fact you know?
What is your favorite part of working from home?
Were the Spice Girls a good team?
Imagine you can instantly learn any language. Which would you choose?
If you could live in any state, which state would you pick?
Which fictional team is the best team of all time?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What do you usually eat for a quick lunch?
What simple food will you never eat?
Show us the weirdest thing you have in the room with you right now.
Would you rather stay at a hotel or an AirBNB?
What is your favorite movie genre to watch?
Are you more productive in the morning or at night?
Who is someone in your community that makes a difference?
Who was your most unique pet?
Choose one famous person from history you want on your team during a zombie apocalypse.
What is a good way to give back to the community?
Which song could you listen to over and over again?
Is Hugh Grant funny?
What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?
Would you want to have an imaginary friend today? Did you have one as a child?
What actor or actress would you want to play you in the movie about your life?
What is the best super power?
What is your New Years resolution?
You can only eat one food again for the rest of your life. What is it?
What is the best work holiday?
What is the first gift you remember receiving?
Would you rather join Metallica or Backstreet Boys?
What is the best example of a community you have seen?
What is an easy way to do something nice for someone?
Show us your phone background and tell the story behind why you picked this image.
What was your first job?
Pick any band to play at your funeral.
If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
Which superpower would you give to your arch enemy?
What is the most obscure superpower you would want?
What emoji best describes how you are feeling right now?
If you could live in any country, which country would you pick?
Would you rather live in a city or a town?
What is your favorite holiday?
What is something you accomplished as part of a team?
What is your standard office lunch?
What is your most used phone app?
What is your favorite season?
Have you ever won something as a team?
Imagine you are a professional baseball player. What is your introduction song?
Beach holiday or ski trip?
Have you ever been to a funny comedy show?
Would you rather live at the North Pole or the South Pole?
What is your favorite song to sing?
If you could live in any state, which state would you pick?
Imagine you could teleport anywhere. Where would you go right now?
What is the most unusual job you have heard of?
What was the last thing you ate?
You can visit any fictional time or place. Which would you pick?
What do your family and friends think you do all day?
What movie do you wish you could watch again for the first time?
Show us your most-used emoji.
What was the most unique style or fashion trend you ever embraced?
What movie defined your generation?
You are stranded on a remote desert island. Are you alone or with your worst enemy?
What is your favorite knock-knock joke?
Have you ever told someone Santa is not real?
Do you know how to speak more than one language?
On a scale of 1 – 10, how much of a team player are you?
What is your #1 recommendation in this city?
What is your favorite holiday?
What bucket list item do you most want to check off in the next six months?
What is your favorite mythical creature?
What was the first way you made money?
If you could be great at any Olympic sport, which would it be?
Which song could you listen to over and over again?
When did you start liking/hating mushrooms?
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
Do you take your PTO all at one time, or another way?
Which show do you remember most from your childhood?
Which beverage goes best with pizza?
Would you want to have a personal assistant follow you around everywhere and do what you asked of them?
Have you ever met your idol?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Would you rather live 100 years in the past or 100 years in the future?
What is your hobby?
When you are alone in the car, what volume is the music at?
Imagine you no longer have to work. How would you spend a Tuesday?
What is your favorite type of sandwich?

One on ones are the most valuable tool a manager has to connect with, influence, and align with their direct reports.

It is also one of the most stale, unstructured rituals we have in the corporate world. This is not for a lack of trying. We schedule one on ones, we show up to them, we expect our reports to show up in return. Maybe we even jot down some questions in advance. As a result of its ubiquity, it’s a ritual that has undergone little to no reflection.

What is a 1:1 for? Why is it valuable? How can we make the most of our 1:1s?

These are the essential questions that go unanswered.

Firstly, your 1:1 is not just for you. It’s for your report too.

It is time that is dedicated and set aside, should they need it, to access you as a thought partner, a career coach, a source of institutional knowledge, a confidant, and a lever to get shit done.

There’s a tendency for managers to use 1:1s as time for bonding, for getting visibility into their reports tasks, and checking on status of ongoing projects. These feel like the ways to get what a manager wants: productive, engaged, happy employees.

But those things do not feel that way to direct reports.

Too much time spent on personal matters is not bonding for them, it’s a distraction from what is far more valuable, leveraging you to accelerate their growth and their work.

Checking in on tasks and projects doesn’t feel like you’re looking for opportunities to help, it looks like you’re looking for opportunities to micromanage.

What instead do direct reports want?

They want to learn. They want to be effective. They want to be recognized. They want to be rewarded.

As managers, first we need to educate them. The 1:1 is their time to make progress on all of those goals. It is meant to be useful, not just to be habitual. It’s there if they want it. It’s cancellable if they don’t.

Then we need to empower them. The 1:1 is theirs. They can change it. They can cancel it. They can call it early.

When reports understand this and managers create a space where those principles are upheld and encouraged, the 1:1 becomes the best meeting of the week and the only time when their career, their growth, and their needs are prioritized above the day to day concerns of the business.

How do we actually structure our 1:1s so that these principles shine through?

A blank calendar event with no agenda doesn’t really say anything at all. It says, figure it out yourselves. It places the burden on you and on your report to make the meeting good, week after week, month after month, by force of will and charisma alone. This might work for a while, but eventually, you’ll both run out of steam.

Instead, rather than put the burden on the two of you to structure the conversation organically, we can leverage technology to take some of the work out of it and make it more natural to do what we really are yearning to do: get to the point.

At Assembly, our approach to 1:1s is to build the structure in by creating an automated workflow that runs alongside the meeting using our own product. That workflow triggers a form that asks us to reflect on a set of key questions before each meeting. This means both parties show up prepared for the meeting and that the first moments of the meeting can be spent isolating what needs to be talked about, rather than just warming up and chatting hoping it leads to something of value.

By asking the questions beforehand and answering in advance, reports have the ability to actually stop and think. What do I need help with? How am I feeling? What is the best way I can leverage my manager right now?

With that baked in moment of reflection, the meeting can be driven by intentionality, rather than by professional niceties.

What are the questions you’d want to ask your report to value? Maybe it’s about how best you can help. Maybe you want to ask how empowered they’re feeling?

Whatever the question, Assembly allows you to customize a set of questions and the cadence along which you ask those questions so that you can set up a workflow once and then reap it’s benefits automatically for the rest of your relationship with your report.

It’s a living workflow, constantly able to be critiqued, changed, updated, and adapted to better suit each report at each stage of their career even as their needs change.

Rather than create the workflow in a vacuum though, deciding on the questions yourself, the most powerful way to build a flow is to work together with your report to decide what questions work and don’t work. Which ones they find valuable that cut to the core of what they need you for, rather than just providing a pleasant thing to chat about.

At the end, you and your direct report will have a written record of how they have changed, improved, and performed over all of your 1:1s and be able to access historical trends in how their responses have changed over time.

This becomes its own valuable tool as a manager, to prepare for review season, to structure a promotion plan, to evaluate compensation.

It is equally or perhaps even more valuable for your report. They can have a view into all of their accomplishments, all of the feedback they’ve received, all of the ways you’ve shown up for them as a manager, and they can use that to advocate for themselves, make decisions, and grow.

When we go from doing our 1:1s face-to-face, synchronous, and agendaless to running them in a way that are focused, written, and accessible we unlock the unique value of the 1:1 meeting and we open up the room to have a really valuable manager-report relationship.

That’s what we want. That’s what our reports want. And in a world where tenures are growing and shorter and shorter and most people leave jobs due to being poorly managed, it may be just what our employers need.

Originally appeared here.

Browse our Free Employee Recognition Guide

Get the foundational knowledge on creating an employee recognition program that boosts employee engagement and helps them feel valued.

Explore Guide
Employee recognition guide